Mōri Motonari

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Mōri Motonari
Mori motonari 2.png
Mori Motonari
Native name
毛利 元就
Nickname(s)Shōjumaru (松寿丸)
Shōnojirō (少輔次郎)
"Beggar Prince" (乞食若殿)
BornApril 16, 1497
Suzuo Castle, Aki
DiedJuly 6, 1571 (aged 74)
Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle, Aki
AllegianceImperial Seal of Japan.svg Imperial House of Japan
Kamon yotumeyui.png Amago clan (1522–1525)
Japanese Crest Oouchi Hisi.svg Ōuchi clan (1525–1554)
Alex K Hiroshima Mori (color).svg Mōri clan (1554–1571)
Years of serviceClan head: 1523–1571
"Retired": 1546, 1557
RankDaimyō (Lord)
Ju go-i-no-ge (従五位下)
Ju shi-i-no-jō (従四位上)
Jibu-shō (治部少輔)
Mutsu-no-kami (陸奥守)
Ju san-mi (従三位)
Shō ichi-i (正一位)
UnitAlex K Hiroshima Mori (color).svg Mōri clan
Mōri Hiromoto
Fukubara Hirotoshi's daughter

Mōri Motonari (毛利 元就, April 16, 1497 – July 6, 1571) was a prominent daimyō (feudal lord) in the western Chūgoku region of Japan during the Sengoku period of the 16th century. The Mōri clan claimed descent from Ōe no Hiromoto (大江広元), an adviser to Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Motonari is known as a great strategist who began as a small local warlord (jizamurai) of Aki Province who extended his clan's power to nearly all of the Chūgoku region through war, marriage, adoption and assassination. Sandwiched between the powerful Amago and Ōuchi clans, Motonari led the clan by carefully balancing actions and diplomacy. Eventually, Motonari succeeded in defeating both and controlled the entire Chūgoku region. In his later years, he crushed the Ōtomo clan of Bungo Province in Kyūshū. Motonari ruled from Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle, the clan's main bastion since the early 14th century. His descendants became lords of the Chōshū Domain.

Early years[edit]

Mōri Motonari was born on April 16, 1497, under the childhood name Shōjumaru (松寿丸) in a small domain of Aki Province. He was the second son of his father, Mōri Hiromoto. His mother was a daughter of Fukubara Hirotoshi (福原広俊), but her name is unknown. His birthplace is said to be Suzuo Castle (鈴尾城), the base of the Fukubara clan and his mother's home. Today, there are stone monuments at the ruins of Suzuo Castle to commemorate the birthplace of Motonari at the castle.

In 1500, his father was involved in a power dispute with the Ashikaga shogunate and the Ōuchi clan and decided to retire. He handed over the head position of the clan to his eldest son, Mōri Okimoto and moved to Tajihi-Sarugake Castle (多治比猿掛城) with his son Shōjumaru. Okimoto then took over Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle, the main stronghold of the clan.

History remembers the young Mōri Shōjumaru as a fearless daredevil. It is said he escaped by night with some other kids from the castle of his father, and met lord Amago Tsunehisa and his troops. Shōjumaru thought they were the ghosts of the Heike clan samurai, and so tried to become famous with a ghost hunt, a kind of practice favored for the education of the youth of buke families. And so, Shōjumaru came openly to challenge the mounted warrior who looked like the general to him. It was Tsunehisa. The other children were trembling in fear, but not Shōjumaru. The young lord shot an arrow toward the veteran lord. Tsunehisa swiftly caught it with his bare hand. Impress by the bravery of his young nemesis, Tsunehisa spared the lads, looking forward to battle against an adult Motonari.

The following year in 1501 his mother died and in 1506 his father died due to alcohol poisoning. Shōjumaru stayed at Tajihi-Sarugake Castle but his vassal Inoue Motomori (井上元盛) began embezzling land and was kicked out of the castle. Because of his poverty for being from such a powerful family he was called the "Beggar Prince" (乞食若殿) by the common people. The young Shōjumaru was raised by a foster mother Sugi no Ōkata (杉大方), who was a great influence on him; they grew very close. She got him in the habit facing the sun and saying a Buddhist prayer every morning.

In 1511, Shōjumaru officially became an adult and had his genpuku ceremony. He received the name Mōri Motonari (毛利元就).

Succeeding the clan[edit]

Mōri Motonari's battle standard, housed at the Mōri Museum (毛利博物館蔵).

In 1516, his brother Okimoto died suddenly like their father due to alcohol poisoning. Okimoto's infant son, Kōmatsumaru (幸松丸) succeeded as head of the clan and Motonari became his overseer.

After the sudden deaths of his father and brother the Mōri clan was left weak and vulnerable. The most powerful lord of the region, Takeda Motoshige (武田元繁) of Sataukanayama Castle (佐東銀山城), took advantage of the situation and gathered an army of 5,000 and in October, 1517 advanced into the territory of the Mōri's Kikkawa clan allies surrounding Arita Castle (有田城). A few weeks later, Motoshige dispatched a raid into the Mōri clan's territory and set fire to houses in Tajihi (多治比). Motonari went in place of his nephew Kōmatsumaru to relieve Arita Castle from the advancing Takeda forces. This was Motonari's first battle that would decide the fate of the Mōri clan and would become known as the Battle of Arita-Nakaide.[1]

With most of the Ōuchi clan forces preoccupied in Kyoto with Ōuchi Yoshioki, the Mōri were unable to call on them for assistance, and Motonari instead mobilized his clan and called on their supporters. Motonari was also supported in this by his younger brother, Aiō Mototsuna. In total the Mōri strength comprised around 850 men, reinforced by 300 from the Kikkawa clan, for a total of around 1,000. This force marched towards Arita Castle and on the way encountered the Takeda vanguard, commanded by Kumagai Motonao (熊谷元直), commanding about 500 men.[2] The Mōri and their allies stood off and engaged the Takeda with archery fire. Kumagai Motonao was in the front ranks and was encouraging his men when he was struck and killed by an arrow. Takeda Motoshige was meanwhile with the main army at Arita Castle. Learning of Motonao's demise, he drew up his forces and marched to engage the smaller Mōri resistance. The Takeda encountered the Mōri and Kikkawa occupying the opposite bank of the Uchikawa River (又打川) and a bitter struggle ensued. Heavily outnumbered, the Mōri-led forces began to falter and fall back, but they held in place only by Motonari's pleas to stand their ground. Takeda Motoshige himself advanced forward across the river on horseback but was struck by an arrow and killed. The Takeda broke and retreated, leaving Mōri Motonari the victor.[3] The battle was the start of the decline of the Aki-Takeda clan and the start of the military expansion of the Mōri. Mōri Motonari's name finally became known in the country.

In 1518 Amago Tsunehisa made a series of raids into the Ōuchi clan's lands, falling back with the return of Ōuchi Yoshioki from Kyōto. In 1521 a formal peace treaty was signed between the two clans but this lasted for but one year. Also sometime around 1522, Motonari married the daughter of Kikkawa Kunitsune (吉川国経) the lord of Ogurayama Castle; this match would not only secure the friendship of the Kikkawa clan but would in time produce three fine sons.[4] This was an important alliance as the Kikkawa were powerful in Aki Province and their land lay directly to the north of Yoshida, the Mōri heartland on the border with Iwami Province. Motonari had thus already extended his influence north in the direction of the silver rich Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and south towards the Inland Sea.[5]

In 1522, Tsunehisa marched into Aki Province, forcing Motonari, whose lands sat directly in the Amago's path, to submit. Motonari was immediately dispatched against Kagamiyama Castle (鏡山城) while Tsunehisa himself struck at Kanayama Castle (金山城). Motonari was successful at the Battle of Kagamiyama Castle (鏡山城の戦) in 1523, but Tsunehisa made no progress against Kanayama and retreated. Motonari had problems taking the castle because the lord of Kagamiyama Castle, Kurata Fusanobu (蔵田房信), put up a strong fight, so he urged his uncle Kurata Naonobu (蔵田直信) to betray the castle. After the battle Motonari insisted on saving Naonobu but Amago Tsunehisa executed him for his shameful and disloyal act. Tsunehisa might have become aware of Motonari's talent and was wary of his expansion. From then on a rift would grow between Tsunehisa and Motonari.

In July 1523, Motonari's nephew Kōmatsumaru, the titular head of the clan, died suddenly at the age of nine. The senior Mōri vassals met and decided to offer the leadership to Motonari and on August 10 he entered Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle as its new lord. However, some among the senior vassals dissented from the decision and in 1524 any sense of security was broken when Mōri suffered the defection of his vassal Katsura Hirozumi (桂広澄), and was forced to defeat the traitor in open battle not far from Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle. Also in 1524, Motonari learned of a conspiracy led by a vassal, Sakagami Sosuke, to murder him and elevate his half-brother Aiō Mototsuna to the leadership. The rebellion was crushed at Funayama Castle in April.

Mōri expansion[edit]

Japan in 1570 (the year before Motonari's death). The Mōri are depicted in orange.
The full portrait of Motonari.

Along with the family troubles concerning succession, Motonari and Amago Tsunehisa gradually grew hostile towards one another. In March, 1525 Motonari and several other local lords decided to change allegiance to Ōuchi Yoshioki. In June, Yoshioki sent their army to Kagamiyama Castle and took it from the Amago clan. Considering Kagamiyama's weak defenses on a low hill, Yoshioki built a new castle called Tsuchiyama Castle at the western edge of Saijo Basin on a high mountain and demolished Kagamiyama.

In 1529 Yoshioki died and was succeeded by his son Ōuchi Yoshitaka. Amago Tsunehisa began making dealings with Takahashi Okimitsu (高橋興光), a maternal relative of the late Mōri Kōmatsumaru who had earlier schemed to place Motonari's brother, Aiō Mototsuna, as head of the Mōri clan. Motonari acted quickly and crushed the Takahashi clan, taking their vast territory from Aki Province to Iwami Province. He had paid a high price for the conquest, however, because Motonari's eldest daughter had been a political hostage of the Takahashi clan was murdered by them in revenge.

A rebellion broke out against the Ōuchi clan in 1532 and thirty-two vassals had presented Motonari with an oath in which they sought a guarantee that he would not require them to give up their status as small-scale lords, in return for which they promised to jointly undertake the repair of walls and irrigation ditches and disciplining of traitorous vassals.[6]

On September 25, 1533, Motonari was granted the rank of the Junior Fifth, Lower Grade in remembrance of his ancestor Ōe no Hiromoto's title. Ōuchi Yoshitaka approved of this and paid the stipend. Through his investiture which had already become nominal by then, he nevertheless demonstrated to the other lords in Aki Province that he had the backing of both the imperial court and the Ōuchi clan.

In 1535, Tagayama Castle (多賀山城) surrendered to Motonari. Over the next twelve months Motonari defeated the Miya and Tagayama clans. By the end of the decade the Ōuchi and Amago families began to see the Mori with new respect and suspicion. The Amago clearly would not have any faith in Motonari as he had betrayed them and defeated their allies. He began consolidating the Mōri's holdings in Aki, gathering local allies, chief among these being the Shishido, Kumagai, and Amano. He also married one of his daughters to Shishido Takaie (宍戸隆家) in 1534. Motonari also made ties with his former enemies, the Aki-Takeda clan and Kumagai clan, creating a strong network of power. The Ōuchi were growing suspicious of the Mōri's growing power, so in 1537, Motonari's eldest son Mōri Takamoto was given as a political hostage to the Ōuchi clan to strengthen their relationship. He would stay until 1540.

In 1539 Ōuchi Yoshitaka fought the Ōtomo clan and Shōni clan of northern Kyūshū, defeating the Shōni clan to win control of the area. In the same year, Sato-Kanayama Castle (佐東銀山城) owned by the Takeda clan on the Amago side fell to the Ōuchi clan despite reinforcements from the Amago clan. The family head Takeda Nobuzane (武田信実) escaped to Wakasa (若狭) where the Takeda had a branch family and later took refuge with the Amago clan.

Motonari successfully defended an attack by Amago Haruhisa on his castle in the 1540–41 Siege of Koriyama.[7] Tsunehisa had nominally retired and turned over the leadership of the clan to his grandson, Haruhisa (also known as Akihisa). Amago Haruhisa conceived of a plan to destroy Mōri Motonari and bring Aki province under the sway of the Amago. When a council of the Amago retainers was called to discuss the planned campaign, almost all spoke in favor of the attack. Amago Hisayuki, however, considered the risks to be too great and spoke out against it, but was derided by Amago Tsunehisa as a coward and publicly humiliated. Amago Hisayuki was given the task of engaging the Mōri's ally, the Shishido clan in Aki as part of an initial and concurrent operation of the larger Amago campaign into Aki.[8] Amago Haruhisa, with 30,000 men, attacked Motonari's main base, Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle, which was defended by 8,000 men. The initial phase of the campaign began in June 1540, which involved an attack by the troops of Amago Hisayuki, his son Amago Masahisa and his nephew Kunihisa on the domain of Motonari's ally, the Shishido clan, a foray that was to prove of little effect except to deny Haruhisa of some of his most capable generals and soldiers for the attack on Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle.[9] In August, Amago Haruhisa had gathered a force of 30,000 and departed Izumo Province, moving into the vicinity of Motonari's Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle and establishing a headquarters nearby. Meanwhile, Motonari had evacuated over 5,000 of Yoshida's citizens inside the walls of Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle. The castle itself was defended by around 3,000 soldiers, by which time urgent requests for aid were dispatched to the Ōuchi in Suo Province.[10] Two days after arriving, the Amago launched an attack on Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle, which continued for several months.

The Ōuchi relief army, consisting of 10,000 men led by Sue Takafusa,[9] finally departed Suō Province in the 11th month, pausing on Miyajima to offer prayers for victory at the Itskushima Shrine before landing in Aki and marching towards Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle. They arrived outside Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle in December 1540, four months after the siege had begun. A series of skirmishes ensued between the opposing armies into the following month (January, 1541), which was largely to the detriment of the Amago. By this time the Amago force that had threatened the Shishido arrived and became heavily engaged in an attack by the Mōri and Ōuchi on the Amago's headquarters on Tenjinyama (天神山). In the ensuing action Amago Hisayuki was killed by an arrow and the Amago suffered heavy losses. In the wake of this fight, the Amago retainers, noting the army's dwindling supplies and poor morale, elected to retreat. The Mōri and Ōuchi duly pursued but were hindered by snow.

The same year (1540), they attacked the Amago retainer Takeda Nobuzane (武田信実) who had been hiding with the Amago clan at Sato-Ginzan Castle. Nobuzane fled to Izumo Province and the Aki-Takeda clan was utterly annihilated. In addition, Motonari organized the Kawachi Keigoshu (川内警固衆, a pirate organization) owned by the Aki-Takeda clan, which would become a large part of the Mori navy later.

From 1542 to 1543 Motonari followed Ōuchi Yoshitaka in the First Siege of Toda Castle. In this battle they penetrated deep into the Amago clan territory but their supply line was broken and Kikkawa Okitsune (吉川興経) betrayed them. Motonari surrounded Tomita Castle (富田城) but the Ōuchi troops retreated. During the retreat Motonari almost lost his life but his general, Watanabe Hajime tried to sacrifice his life so he can get away by fighting to the death. Motonari returned safely to Aki Province. As a result of the battle the power of the Ōuchi clan weakened.

In 1544 Motonari gave his third son, Tokujumaru (徳寿丸), for adoption to the Numata branch of the Kobayakawa clan (沼田小早川氏) who were famous for their naval forces. He later became known as Kobayakawa Takakage. This same year Amago Haruhisa's expeditionary force attacked the Miyoshi clan in Bingo Province, Motonari dispatched generals Kodama Naritada and Fukubara Sadatoshi against them but they were forced to retreat. Motonari lost his wife Myōkyū in 1545 and crying, he did not emerge from his room for three days.

Motonari announced that he would like to enter retirement in 1546 and hand over the leadership of the Mōri to his son Mōri Takamoto. However, he was still the true head of the clan wielding all the power and it was not accepted. Then in 1547 he sent his second son, Shōnojirō (少輔次郎), to become adopted by the Kikkawa clan which was his former wife Myōkyū's family home. He would become known as Kikkawa Motoharu. The head of the clan, Kikkawa Okitsune (吉川興経), was a rival of Motonari who had allied himself with the Amago clan in 1540s. Motonari responded by pressuring Okitsune to adopt his son Motoharu and in 1550 he was compelled to retire, later being killed on Motonari's orders by Kumagai Nobunao (熊谷信直). Kikkawa Tsuneyo (吉川経世), who was the uncle of Okitsune stayed on as a retainer of the Mōri. In 1550 Motoharu enters the Kikkawa clan's main castle as its lord.

He also intervened with the succession of the Kobayakawa clan. His son, Kobayakawa Takakage was head of the Numata branch. The Takehara branch had lost their clan head Kobayakawa Masahira (小早川正平) at the Siege of Toda Castle and the new head of the clan, Kobayakawa Shigehira (小早川繁平) was young and blind from an eye illness so in 1550 with the backing of Motonari, Takakage became head of the Takehara branch merging the two branches of the clan. With this the army of the two branches were at Motonari's will to control.

At this point Motonari now had Iwami Province with the Kikkawa clan, in Bingo Province with the Seto Inland Sea from the Kobayakawa clan and with the two forces nearly dominated the whole of Aki Province.

In 1549 Motonari went down to Yamaguchi with his sons Motoharu and Takakage. Ōuchi Yoshitaka's vassals Sagara Taketō and Sue Takafusa were engaged in a dispute over the future of the Ōuchi clan. After his defeat at the Siege of Toda Castle, Ōuchi Yoshitaka had grown tired of fighting battles and had retreated to work with literature and the arts. Motonari was sick during his stay in Yamaguchi and it took him three months to return to Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle. His caretaker while he was sick was Inoue Mitsutoshi (井上光俊).

Inoue Motokane (井上元兼) was the son of Inoue Mitsukane (井上光兼) and the de facto head of a notable Aki family that nominally served the Mōri clan. He held Tenjinyama (天神山), which was just to the south of Motonari's Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle. As Motokane grew more powerful militarily and economically, he began to test the leadership of Motonari, who he became openly critical of. In 1550 Motonari forced Motokane and many members of his household to commit suicide on the grounds of treasonous behavior, an act that secured the Mōri as Aki's most powerful family. The Inoue clan were afterwards allowed to continue on as Mōri retainers. His previous caretaker in Yamaguchi, Inoue Mitsutoshi, escaped the purge.

Battle of Miyajima[edit]

Scroll depicting the invasion by Mōri forces (c. 1855)

In 1551, Sue Takafusa revolted against his lord Ōuchi Yoshitaka in the Tainei-ji incident, forcing him to commit seppuku. Takafusa changed his name to Harukata on this occasion and installed the next lord of the clan, Ōuchi Yoshinaga, but effectively led the Ōuchi clan and its armies, intent on military expansion. In 1554, Mōri, as a vassal of the Ōuchi clan, wanted to avenge the betrayed Yoshitaka, and so he rebelled against Sue, whose territorial ambitions were depleting clan resources. The Sue gathered a large army of as many as 30,000 men. Motonari, while stronger than ever, could scarcely muster half that. Nonetheless, he fared well in the early stages of their conflict, defeating Sue troops at the Battle of Oshikibata in June. By using what had already become hallmark Mōri trickery and by bribing a number of Sue's men, Motonari managed to balance out the odds somewhat. For his part, Sue made no major moves against Koriyama, and with the end of the year's campaigning season, Motonari was allowed some breathing space. Mōri then departed from the mainland to build a fort, known as Miyao Castle, on Miyajima while proclaiming publicly his woe that it would not hold out long against an attack.[7][11]

In the early summer of 1555, Sue was again threatening, and Motonari was hard-pressed. Harukata was by no means a poor fighter, and the danger of his retainers and allies deserting the Mōri led Motonari to adopt a bold and unorthodox scheme. His plan involved Miyajima, home to the Itsukushima Shrine and a place combatants had traditionally avoided on religious grounds. The suggestion to occupy this place, which was strategically located just off the Aki coast in the Inland Sea, actually came from Mōri's generals. Initially, Motonari refused the idea on tactical grounds. For Miyajima to be a viable base of operations, Sakurao Castle – the nearest fort on the mainland to Miyajima – would also have to be held. Should Sakurao fall, any army on Miyajima risked being isolated. Yet Mōri's own doubts led him to form a plan in which he would lure Sue into this exact trap. Naturally, such a tactic would require Sue to act accordingly, and for inducement, Motonari immediately gave orders that Miyajima was to be occupied, and a fort thrown up quite near the Itskushima shrine. In September, Sue fell into the trap. He landed with the bulk of his army on Miyajima and assaulted the (intentionally) thin defenses of Miyao Castle. When the island had been secured (including the capture of Sakurao), Sue threw up a few fortifications on To-no-oka (Pagoda Hill) and sat down to plot strategy. From his point of view the capture of Miyajima was a strategic boon. From this secure springboard he could embark to almost any point along the Aki coast, as well as Bingo Province. Since the following autumn, Mōri had assumed a largely defensive posture, and Sue had some reason to feel comfortable in his new forward headquarters. Sue thus made his second great mistake – he became complacent.

Mōri put his strategy into effect. Within a week he retook Sakurao Castle and played his trump card – the Murakami pirates. Gathering the pirates' naval strength, he set out to surprise Sue on Miyajima, and picked a perfect night on which to do so. On October 1, after dark and in a driving thunderstorm, Motonari and his sons put to sea. So the Battle of Miyajima began.[12] As a diversion, Kobayakawa Takakage sailed straight past the Sue positions on To-no-oka while Motonari, Mōri Takamoto, and Kikkawa Motoharu landed just to the east and out of sight. Takakage doubled back around and landed at dawn, attacking the Sue forces practically in the shadow of Miyajima's great torii gate. Motonari then assaulted the confused Sue troops from behind, and the result was a rout for Sue Harukata, who committed suicide at Oenoura, a small island inlet. Many of his troops followed suit, and for Motonari, the battle was utterly decisive. He had annihilated the Sue who had aspired to take the place of the Ōuchi clan. While it would take the Mōri until 1557 to force Ōuchi Yoshinaga to commit suicide and years longer to completely bring Suo and Nagato under their control, Motonari was now the most powerful lord in western Japan.[13]

Conflict with Amago and Ōtomo clan[edit]

The mountaintop where Gassan Toda Castle used to stand

In 1554, Amago Kunihisa who was a son of Amago Tsunehisa was killed by Motonari's tactics. Kunihisa's faction was named Shingūtō (新宮党) after the town, Shingu, where it was based. He had been trusted with military matters by his father, Tsunehisa but he often looked down upon those who did not do well on the battlefield and was obnoxious from time to time. In 1554, he was killed by Amago Haruhisa, supposedly after Motonari tricked Haruhisa into believing that Kunihisa and Era Fusahide (江良房栄) intended to take over Amago clan but one of the reasons may be that Kunihisa had been too arrogant towards young Haruhisa. The death of Kunihisa and the purge of the Shingūtō weakened the Amago clan considerably.

Since 1556, Yamabuki Castle (山吹城) had been captured by the leader of the Amago clan, Amago Haruhisa and Motonari lost control of the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine but Haruhisa died in 1560. Haruhisa's son, Amago Yoshihisa, succeeds as head of the Amago. The shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru wished for peace between the Amago and Mōri but Motonari discarded his plea and began his invasion of Izumo Province in 1562. So began the Second Siege of Toda Castle.

The Second Siege of Toda Castle lasted from 1562 to 1563. Amago Haruhisa suddenly died in 1560 and his son, Amago Yoshihisa, succeeded him. When Motonari attacked him at Toda Castle, Yoshihisa had a retainer, Moriyama Hisakane (宇山久兼) executed after fearing betrayal. This caused most of his remaining troops to desert and on 1566, he surrendered to Motonari. Yoshihisa was permitted to become a monk and was held captive at Enmei-ji. With the head of clan gone, the members of the Amago clan were forced to serve as retainers to other daimyo. As a monk, Yoshihisa changed his name to Yurin (友林). After Mōri Terumoto became the head of Mōri clan, he became a retainer under Terumoto.

Motonari's eldest son, Mōri Takamoto, while en route to attack the Amago clan in 1563, died of a sudden disease, though assassination by poison was suspected. Saddened and angered by his death, Motonari ordered all those responsible to be punished. After defeating the Amago clan, Motonari had become lord of eight provinces of the Chūgoku region.

Even though Motonari had basically crushed the Amago clan of Izumo Province, a remnant of the clan, Amago Katsuhisa, son of Amago Masahisa (尼子誠久) continued rebelling. After the Amago clan was overthrown by Motonari in 1566, Yamanaka Yukimori supported Katsuhisa against the Mōri clan in 1568. He lost to Mōri Terumoto at Nunobeyama in 1570 and fled to the island of Oki.

Katsuhisa later returned from Oki and captured Tajima Province and Inaba Province, defending Kozuki Castle for Toyotomi Hideyoshi against the Mōri clan. He was attacked by Kobayakawa Takakage and Kikkawa Motoharu, was defeated, and committed suicide.

Later years and death[edit]

Mōri Motonari's tomb, near the ruins of Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle

Motonari had been suffering from illness during the first half of the 1560s so the shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru sent him his doctor, Manase Dōsan (曲直瀬道三), to treat him. It seems that his physical condition picked up temporarily and in 1567 his last son, Kadokikumaru (才菊丸) was born, later known as Kobayakawa Hidekane.

In two last battles, Motonari captured Tachibana castle in the Siege of Tachibana in 1569 and won the Battle of Nunobeyama in 1570.[7]

Mōri Motonari died on June 14, 1571, at Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle at the age of 74. The cause of death is said to be both esophageal cancer and old age.


Motonari is remembered as one of the greatest Japanese warlords of the mid-16th century. Under his leadership the Mōri had expanded from a few districts in Aki Province to rule over ten of the Chūgoku region's eleven provinces, and Motonari was known even in his day as a master of wiles and trickery, a warlord whose schemes won as many battles as his soldiers. He is best remembered for an event that probably never took place – the "lesson of the three arrows". In this parable, Motonari gives each of his sons an arrow to break. He then gives them three arrows bundled, and points out that while one may be broken easily, not so three united as one. The three sons were of course Takamoto, Motoharu, and Takakage, and the lesson is one that Japanese children still learn in school today. He in fact had six other sons, two of whom appear to have died in childhood. The others included Motoaki, Motokiyo, Motomasa and (Kobayakawa) Hidekane. It is not known for certain if this actually happened or if it is an apocryphal legend.[14]

Shiji Hiroyoshi, Kuchiba Michiyoshi, Kumagai Nobunao, Fukubara Sadatoshi, Katsura Motozumi, Kodama Naritada, Kokushi Motosuke, Hiraga Hirosuke, and Ichikawa Tsuneyoshi assisted Mōri Motonari in his rule. His greatest generals, however, were his own sons Kobayakawa Takakage and Kikkawa Motoharu, the 'Two Rivers' (a play on the 'kawa' characters in their names).

The well known "one line, three stars" emblem of the Mōri was inherited from the family's ancestor, Ōe no Hiromoto.

In addition to being a gifted general Motonari was also a noted poet and patron of the arts. Surviving letters written by his grandson Mōri Terumoto describe Motonari as a strict and demanding man with a sharp eye. He was succeeded by his grandson Terumoto, who was the son of the late Takamoto.[15]


Mōri clan (mon)

In all, Motonari had nine sons and three daughters; four children were by his wife, three by a consort from the Nomi clan, and four by a consort from the Miyoshi clan.

There is also speculation that Ninomiya Naritoki (二宮就辰, 1546–1607) was Motonari's son with a woman from the Yada clan (矢田氏).


The 18 Generals of Mōri (毛利十八将)[edit]

The 18 Generals of Mōri

Other notable retainers[edit]

Motonari's castles[edit]

Aki Province[edit]

Honmaru compound of Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle
  • Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle (吉田郡山城), main castle of the Mōri clan and residence of Motonari.
  • Tajihi-Sarugake Castle (多治比猿掛城), Motonari spent his youth in the castle.
  • Suzuo Castle (鈴尾城), main castle of the Fukuhara clan, Motonari`s birthplace.
  • Goryu Castle (五龍城), main castle of the Shishido clan
  • Katsura Castle (桂城), main castle of the Katsura clan
  • Hinoyama Castle (日野山城), main castle of the Kikkawa clan
  • Biwakō Castle (琵琶甲城), main castle of the Kuchiba clan
  • Mibu Castle (壬生城)
  • Funayama Castle (船山城)
  • Nagamiyama Castle (長見山城)
  • Miiri-Takamatsu Castle(三入高松城), main castle of the Kumagaya clan
  • Toko no Yama Castle (鳥籠山城)
  • Yagi Castle (八木城)
  • Koi Castle (己斐城)
  • Sato-Ginzan Castle (佐東銀山城)
  • Sakurao Castle (桜尾城)
  • Miyao Castle (宮尾城)
  • Kusatsu Castle (草津城), main castle of the Kodama clan

Bingo Province[edit]

  • Takayama Castle (高山城) main castle of the Kobayakawa clan until Kobayakawa Takakage moved their main castle to Niitakayama Castle
  • Niitakayama Castle (新高山城) main castle of the Kobayakawa clan
  • Mihara Castle (三原城) main castle of the Kobayakawa clan
  • Hatagaeshiyama Castle (旗返城)
  • Kannabe Castle (神辺城), main castle of the Sugihara clan
  • Kashirazaki Castle (頭崎城), main castle of the Hiraga clan

Other province[edit]

Popular culture[edit]

See People of the Sengoku period in popular culture.

  • Portrayed by Nakamura Hashinosuke III in the 1997 NHK Taiga drama TV series Mohri Motonari [ja].[16] It was a year-long broadcast that retold the story of how Motonari rose from the leader of an insignificant military clan to become one of the most powerful warlords of the Sengoku period.
  • He is represented as a playable character in the video game Sengoku Basara and all its sequels. In the game, he was described as an uncaring leader with a shiny ambition to conquer all of Japan. He was armed with blades, then replaced by a circular blade.
  • He is represented as a playable character in the video game Samurai Warriors series.
  • He is represented as a character in Pokémon Conquest as the warlord of the Greenleaf Kingdom, with his partner Pokémon being Servine and Serperior.
  • The parable regarding Motonari, his three sons, and the lesson of the three arrows is believed have been a source of inspiration for Akira Kurosawa when he was writing his epic film Ran. The name of the local J League soccer team, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, was also inspired by this story. "San" means three in Japanese, and "frecce" means arrows in Italian.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.cf.city.hiroshima.jp/gion-k/webstation/rekishi/takeda-hiwa/arita-kassen/arita-kassen.html
  2. ^ Aki-Takeda family historical background (Hiroshima City Culture Foundation
  3. ^ Arita Castle - Kitahiroshima-cho Tourist Information Website (Kitahiroshima-cho Tourism Association) https://web.archive.org/web/20150712105333/http://www.kitahiro.jp/shiseki/aritajoshi.html. Archived from the original on July 12, 2015. Retrieved July 12, 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ The Samurai Archives https://www.samurai-archives.com/motonari.html. Retrieved August 8, 2017. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Cockrell, Tim (2010). "Môri Motonari: Founding a Samurai Dynasty". Flames of War.
  6. ^ Hall, John Whitney (1977). Japan in the Muromachi Age. University of California Press. p. 83. ISBN 0520028880.
  7. ^ a b c Turnbull, Stephen (1998). The Samurai Sourcebook. Cassell & Co. p. 209. ISBN 1854095234.
  8. ^ Rekishi Gunzô Shirizu #49, Môri Senki Gakken, Japan, 1997
  9. ^ a b Yamamoto, Hiroki (2007). Saigoku no sengoku kassen. Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan. p. 291. ISBN 978-4642063227.
  10. ^ Rekishi Gunzô Shirizu, Mori Motonari, Vol 9, Gakken, 1988
  11. ^ Turnbull, Stephen R. (1977). The Samurai: A Military History. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co. p. 131.
  12. ^ Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan, 1334–1615. Stanford University Press. pp. 234–235. ISBN 0804705259.
  13. ^ "The Samurai Archives". Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  14. ^ Cook, Harry (1993). Samurai the Story of a Warrior Tradion. Great Britain: BlandfordPress. p. 219.
  15. ^ "The Samurai Archives". Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  16. ^ "Mohri Motonari". NHK. 1997-02-05. Archived from the original on 1997-02-05. Retrieved 2020-04-19.

External links[edit]